Can't chop the Trop

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A couple of weeks ago I mused
that rather than building a new ballpark, maybe the Rays would be
better off simply taking a can opener to Tropicana Field, refitting it
with grass and a retractable roof, and otherwise making the best of
things. I thought I was pretty clever too! Seems that the Rays were one step ahead of me, however. It also seems like the idea is not as good as I thought it was:

Even
with a $471 million overhaul, complete with a retractable roof,
supersized concourse and upgraded seating, Tropicana Field would remain
a subpar facility with substantial design flaws, according to a Tampa
Bay Rays’ consultant report released Monday.

“When we got
done this would be a B-, B+ type of baseball facility as opposed to,
obviously, if we do a brand new ballpark, it would be an A+,” said Joe
Spears, president of Populous, a design firm hired by the Rays . . .
Converting Tropicana Field into a first-class facility would require a
sweeping redesign, the report says, so much so that the project would
cost more than the Rays’ abandoned plan to build a $450 million
waterfront stadium.

At the heart of that conclusion is the fact
that, while you and I only notice the problems with the low roof and
gloomy lighting, Tropicana suffers from any number of other maladies.
According to the consultant’s report, the seats are too narrow and are
often facing the wrong direction, views of the field are obstructed
throughout the stadium, the concourse is too narrow and dead-ends,
which interrupts traffic flow and prevents fan socializing/drinking in
common areas, the press box sits where club seats should live, there
aren’t enough bathrooms, there isn’t enough storage, and the design of
the place makes life hard for the cleaning crews. All of that before
even mentioning the stupid catwalks.

What kills me in all of this
is that the Trop is not some artifact of the late industrial revolution
when people were small and discomfort was an accepted part of life. It
was designed and built in the mid-to-late 80s. I realize that was the
stone age as far as ballparks are concerned, but I’m pretty sure that
basic things like ergonomics and the benefit of good sight lines had
been discovered by then. What’s more, unlike the long gone but
not-lamented multiuse stadiums of the 60s and 70s, the Trop — while
capable of being used for other events — was built with baseball
specifically in mind and thus didn’t need to make nearly as many
compromises in quality and comfort that it did. Simply put, there’s
just no excuse for the disgrace to baseball that is that park.

But
that’s a battle that was lost long ago. The present battle — where the
Rays will play in the future — continues to rage with no apparent end
in sight.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.